While I wasn’t looking

leslie-townsendHALF-EMPTY MASON JAR

By LESLIE SMITH TOWNSEND
Contributing Editor

Satisfaction is a state of mind. When you look at a glass of water, do you see it as half empty or half full? Some of us have an immediate response. “It’s half full, of course,” declares the optimist. Others say, “It depends on my mood, the day of the week, season of the year and whether it’s raining.” This blog is Leslie’s attempt to promote sustainable mind and spirit by looking more closely at the proverbial half-empty, half-full mason jar.

I am a person who pays attention. I am vigilant about paying attention, and yet this simple habit did not save me or the woman I hit with my car in a grocery store parking lot. For an instant, and that’s all it took, my attention was elsewhere.

I don’t want to be the kind of person who injures another human being while her attention is elsewhere.

This is my ego talking. All of us are capable of slipping up, creating potentially dire, if not fatal, circumstances. I’ve lived the luxury of illusion, believing I could be responsible all the time, that I’m incapable of negligence or abuse. But a few months ago, I sent a woman to the hospital. Sam Keen writes, “We have to move from the illusion of certainty to the certainty of illusion.”

When I heard the woman scream—a cry of bewilderment and betrayal—I hit the brakes and watched her crumple.

No, this could not be happening. Terror rooted me to the seat of my car.

Don’t move!

I forced myself out of the car.

Don’t look!

I looked and knelt by her side. She took my hand, and I rubbed her back till the ambulance arrived. She was a kind woman, gracious and forgiving. I held my tears till she was gone. Then I hiccupped sobs and hyperventilated. Three hours later, her husband called saying she was only bruised, thank goodness!

But this collision of bodies in space broke the back of my denial. As I ponder the moment of impact, I recognize my addiction to competence and self-sacrifice, as if by these virtues I could make myself worthy. I cannot make myself worthy. As with any addiction, I am powerless. I need help. I need.

It is just this neediness I want to deny—the essential vulnerability of being human. I want to be on the giving end of the equation, which is to say, I want to be in control.

Molly Peacock has written a poem called “The Cliffs of Mistake.” She writes about the moment of foreknowledge when we recognize our mistake, but it’s too late to take it back—how we want to scramble back up the cliff we’ve stepped from, how we pretend that it’s possible when it’s not. “Might this be what metaphors are for,” she asks, “to say what it’s like // before you hit what it is.”

Eventually, we all “hit what it is,” and unless we learn to forgive ourselves, we will continue striking solid, unmovable objects with the steel rims of our overblown egos. Even this, then—the horror of my negligence—I must receive as a gift, with apologies to the one I hurt.

I am, after all, only human.

Contributing Editor Leslie Smith Townsend is a pastoral counselor in private practice. A composite excerpt of her memoir appears in the anthology Voices of Alcoholism.


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